Dir. Jim Jarmusch. U.S. 2016

Talking Pictures alias







About Us


I’m not sure if Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) in Paterson wants to make America great again by giving us his vision of the way it used to be, or is telling us that we only have to look around us to discover that it’s great right now. Performed by a brilliantly authentic Adam Driver (“Midnight Special”), Paterson is not only the name of the city in New Jersey known for its resident poet William Carlos Williams, but is also his name. He is a poet whose Haiku-like verses (actually written by Ron Padgett) are reminiscent of the city’s own poet William Carlos Williams. He writes a new poem every day (or finishes an old one) on the #23 bus he drives before and during his trip. Though his loving, energetic, somewhat scattered wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, “Finding Altamira”) keeps asking him to make copies of them, he resists the idea, preferring to keep them in his secret notebook.

The film has little conflict, family dysfunction, or mental health issues. It is about what works and even (wonder of wonders) about a marriage that is not falling apart. Like most people with jobs and families, Paterson has a daily routine. There’s too much variation in his day to call it a takeoff on Groundhog Day, but it does have that “same old, same old” quality. He awakes shortly after 6am, has a bowl of cereal that looks suspiciously like Cheerios, walks to his job driving the #23 bus through the streets of Paterson, listening in on conversations (often with a broad smile on his face) of passengers who talk about anything from Italian anarchists to boxer Hurricane Carter and comedian Lou Costello.

He comes home at six, corrects a leaning mailbox that moves daily thanks to his grumpy English bulldog Marvin (RIP), has dinner (some on the exotic side) talks with Laura who fills him in on the many projects she has going on including painting black and white circles on draperies, learning to play the guitar, and making cupcakes to sell at the local farmers market. He then takes Marvin for a walk and goes for a beer at the local pub where he chats with the owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley, “Carrie”), and often acts as a moderator between Everett (William Jackson Harper, “True Story”), a dramatic actor who desperately wants to reunite with his ex-wife Maria (Chasten Harmon).

The poems that Paterson reads as the words are flashed on the screen are not about odes to nightingales (though there’s nothing wrong with that) but about down-to-earth things, such as one about matches, inspired by Ohio Blue Tip matchboxes that have disappeared from our lives. In “The Run,” he says, “I go through trillions of molecules that move aside to make way for me while on both sides trillions more stay where they are. The windshield wiper blade starts to squeak. The rain has stopped. I stop. On the corner a boy in a yellow raincoat holding his mother’s hand.” In other poems he lets the world know how much he is in love with his wife, though he confides in us that he occasionally looks at other woman, something which as far as I know is still legal.

To Paterson, a poem should be simple and direct and he is moved by one such poem by a 9-year-old girl who recites it to him while she is waiting for her mother and sister. He complements her on her poem about a waterfall, remembering a few lines and reciting them to Laura when he gets home. Contrary to most films where, except for films about wealthy financial elites, work does not play a big role in the life of the characters, Paterson makes real what daily living is about for a majority of working people. The film has warmth and humor wrapped in a portrait of a city which has seen better days, a city in which Jarmusch creates a structure of closely observed small moments revealed with empathy.

Paterson is a man who is not looking for life to give him satisfaction but who brings satisfaction to it, a man who knows that satisfaction does not depend on accumulating things but in being grounded in who you are and what you can bring to the world. He comes to appreciate that poetry is not extraneous to life but that life itself is poetry. Although the film presents an idealistic picture of a city without visible slums, drugs, and crime which we know exists, Jarmusch may be providing us with a welcome counterpoint, showing us the way our cities should be and can be again.


Howard Schumann

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